CD, Tympanik Audio, 2009
I first came across the work of Alaskan artist James Church through his album “Gravedigger”, released in 2008 under the alias Lucidstatic. Scarcely one year later, and this time as Pandora’s Black Book, Church presents a new side to his music with a new full-length release, “Black Brothel”.
Where Lucidstatic is raw and in-your-face, an almost relentless of barrage of breaks, Pandora’s Black Book seems more complex and harder to categorize, successfully combining contrasting elements in a fine act of musical balancing. This equilibrium is noticeable from the very beginning of the album (which, in intensity, seems to pick up where Lucidstatic left off on “Gravedigger”): hard beats peppered with the odd glitch, overlaying sweeping melodies and encompassing ambiances are the recipe for the opening of “Black Brothel” which culminates in “Empty Words”, following the almost ominous “Dark Passenger”. From then onwards, things mellow considerably, with multi-layered melodies taking a more prominent role over that of rhythmic structures, counterweighted by glitch textures – a state of things which is ominously (and aggressively) ended by “The Wait”. What follows is a subtle crescendo, both of tension and intensity, which culminates with the aptly titled “Threshold”. In between, rich and hauntingly dark tracks “Adverse” (the only one featuring a vocal component) and “Mr Hidden” (with an ethnic hue to it) stand out from the rest. “Black Brothel” concludes with lengthy “Wavelength” which, coming across as a hybrid of Vangelis and neo-classical/martial folk, seems to be in stark contrast with the rest of the album, but provides more than adequate closure to it.
Though the production throughout is excellent, there is a vague sense of formulaic approach to composition and layering in the way rhythmic, melodic and ambiance elements are combined throughout “Black Brothel”. Nevertheless, Church manages to inject enough variety into individual tracks and the album as a whole by using a wide range of elements and stylistic influences, making “Black Brothel” flow rather organically and work as a coherent whole despite the contrast between its parts.
Unmistakably urban, “Black Brothel” is an album with a story to tell, a story which takes place between dimly-lit, smoke-filled basements, littered with the remains of cigarette ash and last week’s spilled whiskey, and the dark corners of a delirious mind plagued by creeping paranoia. It is the aural equivalent of a post-modern noir thriller.
— Miguel de Sousa